A singer/songwriter, a poet, an activist, a producer and more, Kalamazoo native, Yolonda Lavender, has done it all.
“I feel that it’s my responsibility to be doing all of these things because of the message that I am committed to spreading,” Lavender said.
As a performing artist, she’s had the privilege to be able to travel to a lot of different places. But besides Kalamazoo, Grand Rapids is probably the second place she performs the most and she will be performing at GRAM on the Green July 19 starting at 6 p.m.
When it comes to Lavender’s music, it’s kind of a mix of everything. Her latest album, released at the beginning of last year, “Back 4 The 1st Time,” includes blues, soul, R&B, gospel, poetry and some jazz.
Lavender’s parents really helped to influence her music. Her mom was the one who told her to sing in the choir at church and her dad had a pretty significant appreciation for hip-hop.
“Those things are just kind of ingrained in me,” said Lavender. “I was exposed to different genres of music which I think is why I have a pretty significant understanding of different genres.”
She has been singing since she was five, when she sang for the first time in the church choir.
“I remember that there was always this element of fear with performing in front of people that just became a part of me performing when I was singing at church,” said Lavender. “It wasn’t until maybe age 16 that I started to get a little more serious about it.”
After she went to college, her cousin had started an independent record label, Truth Tone Records, and Lavender has been a part of it since 2006.
“The label got started and I got my first experience with recording music,” said Lavender. “I did that for maybe a year and then started performing regularly around Kalamazoo. My first experience performing outside of church was [for] an organization in Kalamazoo that provides opportunities for new and up-in-coming artists to perform.”
Lavender started to receive feedback from people she had never met who enjoyed hearing her sing.
“I thought, ‘oh ok, this is something I want to continue to do,’” said Lavender. “Then it just started to really continue to pick up. Once I realized, outside of church, that this is something people were interested in me doing, it just continued from there.”
Aside from performing, Lavender is also the CEO and founder of Soul Artistry.
“It’s basically event curating or experience curating. So outside of actually being a performing artist, I like to provide opportunities for other artists as well,” she said.
Soul Artistry helps to create a lot of artistic opportunities for artists and for the community to enjoy. She also helps with artist development – helping other artists with the performing aspects, what it looks like to put together a setlist, arranging and composing music of their own, putting together an actual show and performance.
There is also a non-profit component of Soul Artistry.
“It’s because I have been involved with nonprofits for a very significant amount of time,” said Lavender. “I do consulting for nonprofits, specifically nonprofits that are smaller and led by people of color.”
Adding to all of the things she does, Lavender is also the director of the Black Arts Cultural Center in Kalamazoo.
“My advocacy for black artists and the exposure of black culture to everybody is something that I’m always advocating for,” she said. “I feel really privileged to still be living and working in the community I grew up in and giving back to the community I grew up in.”
As director of the Black Arts and Culture Center, she does a lot of different things.
“[I do] whatever is necessary to make sure the organization is able to operate from day to day is my overall responsibility. That includes programming, funding, fundraising. Just making sure the organization is able to operate.”
She feels like she has a lot of full-time jobs, but being the director is her primary job.
“But I’m also a working artist. Performing quite a bit in the midst of all that and running Soul Artistry. It is a lot but I don’t think I would rather have it any other way.”
“I always try to keep in mind a quote that Nina Simone used to reiterate that ‘It’s the artist’s responsibility to make sure that they reflect the times that they’re living in.’ I think that’s definitely true,” said Lavender. “Like if you’re going to be saying something, be intentional and really say something.”
Learn more at Soul Artistry.
*Photos courtesy of Yolonda Lavender